PMTH NEWS                                    06/24/99

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If oppression is to be defined in terms of a loss of autonomy by the oppressed, as well as a fragmentation or alienation within the psyche of the oppressed, then a theory which insists upon the inevitable fragmentation of the subject appears to reproduce and valorize the very oppression that must be overcome.
Judith Butler, p.326

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Lois Holzman's New Book!

A well-appreciated PMTH subscriber, Lois Holzman has a new book out.  Wouldn't it be interesting if Lois would talk about it with us?  Maybe in a month or so.

I will ask her if she's available and let you know if she says "yes."  In the meantime, read the first little blurb out about the new book by clicking here.

Controversial Topics

A New Thread

This week PMTH has instituted a thread we are calling "controversial topics."  Many of us on PMTH were colleagues on another list that became dominated by acromonious debate.  Many people left the list and we lost the kind of dialogue PMTHers tend to value.  So, to protect against that happening here, I have worked closely with the PMTH council to set up methods for dealing with hurt feelings and flaring tempers if these occur.  The hope is that this problem can be minimized with as little cost to people's freedom to say what they want as possible.  Still, our experience on the other list has convinced us that minimum controls need to be set in place and have been.

I believe that what we will gain from setting up these minimal rules, can be important.  I think  that there is a natural shifting of our understanding as we discuss topics and take into account points that each other makes.  This is what I think of as "paralogy.

And paralogy, I believe, to be the quest of the postmodern and a natural medium for a postmodern therapy.  It is through a process of paralogy that one begins to escape naive positions, to understand how others react to one's stated positions, to glimpse the counter argument, to perceive the issues more fully, and, sometimes, to shift one's thinking about certain elements in one's position, or, even, to switch paradigms.  I have myself argued that therapy (and psychoanalytic) process often work through this paralogy (Shawver, 1998b, 1998c).
If we avoid talking about controversial issues, we stay within our original frames, unable to perceive counterarguments and remain far too gullible (to my way of thinking) about our inherited mythologies.

in Postmodernity

In fact, PMTH was founded with the hope of finding a place tha could discuss even the hotest of topics.  With that goal in mind, this week, we have launched into a discussion of homosexuality.  The participants so far include an orthodox Jew who believes that homosexuality is sinful, several who think that homosexuality is determined by one's genes, several taking a social constructionist position and Tony Michael Roberts who provides us with an introduction to queer theoryClick here to see the introduction.  

If you are new to queer theory, I do hope you read Roberts introduction.  It is quite good, although there is still much more to say on this topic.
And, if you are gain an overview of the postmodern movement, you will certainly want some acquaintance with queer theory.  Also, I have sprinkled his introduction with plenty of links to terms in our dictionary, and that should make it easier to read.

Other Controversial 

Watch for new topics to emerge in our thread of controversial topics.  I know of two that are being suggested for a forum airing, and wish us luck that we will, as a group, be able to navigate our differences and continue to talk together in ways we continue to find enriching and edifying.

And thanks to Jane Whitehead for forwarding information to me from the Public Conversation Project.  It promises to be helpful in thinking through our challenging of having meaningful dialogue on controversial topics.  

Jerry is Coming to Town

In a couple of days, I plan to meet PMTHer Jerry Shaffer for the first time.  He will be coming to my area in northern California to visit family, and the plan is that we will meet.

I'll let you know.  But here is a topic worthy of postmodern conversation: How do internet relationships differ from friendships in the flesh?  And how does it change things to meet online friends personally?

Maybe it differs for each person, or maybe it differs depending on how long the online friendship has continued -- but I will again get to see.

Let me encourage other PMTHers who vacation to write a post to the list to see if they'll be visiting an areas where PMTHers are.  Recall last January I visited Lois Holzman, Joyce Datner, Murray Dabby, George Spears, Katherine Levine  and Manfred Straehle in New York.  And, of course, Val Lewis visited me recently in Oakland, and Judy Weintraub in the L.A. area.

We are just about everywhere.

Therapy and the Postmodern Predicament
Today I want to give you a paper written by PMTH subscriber, Maria Nichterlein and a co-author John Morss.  They are thinkers influenced by the writing of Jacques Derrida  and also by the work of of Deleuze and Guattari.  They read these authors in ways that leave them in something of a postmodern predicament that many postmoderns share.  And they invite you to share in pondering of this predicament..

Their paper ponders the story of Bertha, a new therapy client.  Bertha was a woman whose husband had had an affair. When she  appeared for her first therapy session she seemed very cool, very together, so together, in fact, that the therapist terminated the therapy.  However, Bertha later shows up for another session in which she appeared to be falling apart. 

Nichterlein and Morss ask what a postmodern therapist can make of this.  It is tempting to try to read beyond the initial presentation of the symptom, to think in terms of the client pretending to be handling matters well.  But doesn't this amount to imposing their structure (or opinion) on this client?  Choosing the session in which she seemed to be falling apart as representing who she really is?  Why not say that the real Bertha was the one who was composed?    Is there a way to avoid doing this kind of imposing with a client like Bertha? 

How would you resolve this dilemma?  Would you presume that one of the sessions represented the real Bertha?  And how would you priorize Bertha's two presentations of herself?  How would you decide which one represented the real Bertha?  On reflection, thisis not an easy question.

To continue on as therapists in spite of this predicament, Nichterlein and Morss talk of the Deleuzian concept of a "nomad".  As you know, a nomad is a person who has no fixed home.  Can a therapist do therapy without a fixed theoretical home?  Without a theory and a goal?  Letting the ideas emerge and change in the course of doing therapy?

I think such therapy is quite possible, but in this era of managed care and therapy goals, do you have the courage to work without defined goals?  Without a recordable diagnosis? 

I read this paper as Nichterlein and Morss' struggle with this difficult postmodern issue.  I applaud their ability to be Deleuzian nomads, wandering through the experience of therapy without a clear destination,  no defined goals, no certain techniques, and I sense some similarity between their Deleuzian metaphor of nomads and Lyotard's metaphor of being "pagan" that so inspires me.

It is my experience in working this way that goals often emerge in the therapy and that when they do, clients are more identified with them than when they are imposed from the outside.

Is this the way you think?  Are you a pagan nomad therapist, too?

A Taste of Derrida
Want a little taste of Derrida?  Just a little?  Here's an interview.  But before you go there, you should keep in mind that Derrida's first influential writing was a book called Of GrammatologyIn the interview  I give you now, you will see the interviewer ask Derrida what he means by "Grammatology".  He will also ask him what he means by "writing."  What Derrida says may seem a bit confusing.  That's typical for Derrida.

Actually, Derrida was clearer about what he means by writing in his book Of Grammatolgy when he said:

And thus we say "writing" for all that gives rise to inscription in general, whether it is literal or not and even if what it distributes in space is alien to the order of the voice: cinematography, choreography, of course, but also pictorial, musical and sculptural "writing."

By "writing", Derrida is talking about the way in which we have been mystified by what has already been "written."  When a dancer dances without choreography, she is free to do what she wants.  When the choreography is written, she dances according to that script.  "Writing" for Derrida is a matter of creating a script that a reader then performs in the process of reading. 

Some "writing" has been so influential that people use it as a guide for centuries, sometimes without quesiton.  Plato is one of the primary writers in this sense.  Derrida would call this Platonic mystification our "logocentrism."

The postmodern challenge is to learn to break out of this logocentrism.



There was an interesting coversation on this  last week on the Peircian concept of "abduction."  It is fair to say that the conversation was led by Jerry Shaffer and Tony Michael Roberts.   Schaffer, perhaps you know by now, is inclined to take what he calls a "moderate modernist" stance.  Roberts, perhaps you also know, is more inclined to step into a postmodern framework.  This is so, it seems, even when they are admiring the same philosopher, in this case Peirce.

For example, when Roberts spoke 
of Einstein's "yarn about how four dimensional space bends"  Shaffer responded by saying "Well, it did get us atomic bombs and Moon-walks."  Their dialogues tend to have this ongoing flavor, with Shaffer ever watching to see if respect science and precision sufficiently and Roberts ever reminding us of the creative and imaginative dimension of all our "stories," whether we call them "science" or otherwise.

In this vein, Roberts was pleased with my notion that a detective reasoned with abduction when the detective said things, like "What circumstances could have existed in order for this note to have been left on the piano?"  This led him to talk more about the way such thinking is creative.

Shaffer gave him this point, (abduction is creative),  but then quickly changed the focus.  He said, 

Take what Tony says about postmodern detectives.  Sure they come up with imaginative, creative stories (this is what I think
Peirce means by the process of "abduction").  But then they must put
them to the empirical test. 

Oh, Shaffer recognizes that there are "postmodern elements" in Peirce, but, myself, I am inclined to see Peirce as lacking the dialogical side to postmodernism that most attracts me.  And when Roberts said about "abduction": 

That's pretty much it. It's the idea that every
 explanation must also generate predictions. The
 predictions in this case are the expectations you have
 about where the conversation is going.

I responded much like Tom Strong did when he said:

This sounds like an artifact of the modern mind. First they describe then
they predict, and from there they can control. It is that line of reasoning I think pomos are assailing these days. How many different ways of relating to what we experience are excluded when we think in such ways.  As a therapist, I'm trying to unhinge my mind from this artifact, it
narrow tracks me, and makes conversation too predictable. I'm not
pouncing on you for this, but I'm curious as to whether others have the
same reaction.

So, yes, I did have much the same reaction to the Percian concept of "abduction" as Tom Strong , but still, I think there might be something here that is useful for people of a more postmodern bend of mind.  The postmodern , as Tom Hicks points out, can continue to use modernist language although their use is no longer "innocent".  I think I know what Tom Hicks means by "innocent" here and I agree, and I agree:  The language we have inherited is limited, so we use it even when it is not quite apt, but we are ready to abandon it and notice its limitations.

So, maybe in that sense, "abduction" has something to offer the postmodern. 

Check in to the next edition of PMTH NEWS to see if we have more ideas on "abduction." 

Incommensurate Discourses

Postmodern thinkers who have been influenced by Lyotard and Wittgenstein tend to see people speaking languages within a langauge.  In other words, everyone might be speaking English, but there are different langauges within English.  And different participants might be having difficulty communicating because they are actually speaking different languages and systematically misunderstanding each other.

The question is whether these different language games can be brought together or whether we are condemned to speaking past each other.

Today, I bring you a review by Tom Strong of a book that studies whether two particular languages (or discourses) can be successfully integrated; that is, whether the language of constructivism can be integrated with that social constructionism. 

Read Strong's review to see if this text has something to offer postmoderns to assist our efforts to integrate languages -- but also to see whether constructivism and constructionism can be made compatible.

Plato, the Sophists and Postmodernism

I think an important discussion took place this last week between Jerry Shaffer and Tony Michael Roberts.

Shaffer questioned the appropriateness of postmoderns in philosophy departments.  It's a reasonable question.  Many postmodern philosphers have found receptive homes in English departments while being rejected by philosophers.  Shaffer argued that this may be as it should be because postmodernism may be more of an attitude than a theory. 

Think of the current rejection, by some on this [PMTH] list, of the
Law of Contradiction which Aristotle took to be the fundamental rule of reason and even of discourse....  Think of the [postmodern] rejection, by some on this list, of the Law of Contradiction which Aristotle took to be the fundamental rule of reason and even of discourse.

And he added:

[I]f postmoderns theorize, they must fall into generalizations (meta-
narratives) which ignore context, particulars, uniquenesses, individual
differences, exactly the things they criticize in Modernism. Therefore
they should not theorize.

Hmmm.  Is this an argument over Turf?  Postmoderns are okay, but they have to go to someone else's Turf.  Read what the important sociologist, Thomas Scheff says about turf arguments in current day universities

"Turf" is serious stuff.  In philosophy, so Tony Michael Roberts pointed out, the turf questions goes all the way back to ancient times.  Roberts argued that Plato won the battle virtually snuffing out our awareness of Plato's opponents, the "sophists.". I think no one would question that Plato won this battle, at least until postmodern times.  Now, the arguments of the sophists appear more credible. 

Want to read more about the battle that Plato seemed to have won for such a long time? 

Ask yourself if postmoderns are the heirs of the sophists? I think perhaps postmoderns are the heirs but their message is not the same as the sophists.  Today, we have made the linguistic turn.  That is, we are much more conscious of the way langauge affects our answers than it seems the sophists were.

What makes the struggle of postmodernism similar to the sophist's position is the postmodern battle against what  Nietzsche said were Plato's "pale, cold, gray concept nets ...over the motley whirl of the senses."  Other postmodern philosophers also see themselves as battling the mystification of Plato's philosophy.  Heidegger, for example, later Wittgenstein, Derrida and many others talk about this struggle against Platonic mystification. 

And, so, in some sense, the battle between these two forces seems to have come back to life.  There is Plato-Aristotle-and Socrates on the one side of the battle and the sophists on the other.  The only problem with characterizing the battle  that way is that the term "sophist" has been poisoned by Plato's victory.  He has taught us to view the "sophists" as doing, well, "sophistry" while postmoderns think it is Plato and his philosophical descendents who are making the faulty arguments. 

Let me sum up:  Has the western world been asleep for twenty-five hundred years? Dreaming the Platonic dream?  Many postmoderns would argue that it is so, and they would tell you, too, that this is the source of the conflict emerging in many universities.

But maybe Shaffer is right.  Maybe postmoderns should leave philosophy departments to the heirs of Plato and Aristotle, after all, they are the ones that came up with the term philosophy and the world is large.  Postmoderns do not need to make their home in philosophy departments.  There are other places to go, such as English departments.

Or perhaps postmoderns should fight for their place in philosophy departments as well.    What do you think?


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